Wednesday, July 27, 2011

inspirational diatoms

Diatoms are among my favourite examples of "Nature's nanotechnology" from which we still have so much to learn. I wrote quite a few pieces about them in the late 90s / early 00s, but then lost track of them a bit. Now I've caught up with the field and have written a feature article which is out in this week's issue of Chemistry & Industry (issue 14, page 21-23).

It appears to be freely accessible here - you just have to click on the sub-headings to get the next part of the text.

Photo: Wipeter, Wikimedia Commons

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

nature's value

At the end of June, I had the opportunity to take part in this year’s “World Forum for Enterprise and the Environment” at Merton College, organised by Oxford’s Smith School.

It was all about how we may still be able to avoid blowing up our planet if we get businesses to recognise the value of the natural resources they are using, polluting, or destroying with their activities.

Personally, I would prefer if people could just do the right thing because it is the right thing to do, and wouldn’t need price tags and bribes to steer them in the right direction. But as we do live in a society where money talks, and which isn’t going to change any time soon, I guess the ecosystem services idea may well be our best chance for saving what's left of our natural environment.

As this is all very topical and important, I wrote a feature about what I learned at the Forum, which is out in Current Biology today:

Valuing Nature
Current Biology, Volume 21, Issue 14, R525-R527, 26 July 2011
FREE access to full text and pdf file

Oh, and I especially enjoyed Sandra Bessudo's talk (in Spanish) on the natural wealth of Colombia, and what should be done to protect it, so here's a picture of her:

This is my own photo, but there are lots of official photos from the event at the Smith School of Enterprise and the Environment's photostream.

Saturday, July 23, 2011

Common Hogweed (Heracleum sphondylium)?

As I'm not much of a botanist, I am struggling to identify this plant which grows in abundance along the river Cherwell in Oxford:


Young leaves look like this:

I now think it's Common Hogweed - also see the German Wikipedia entry which has better pictures - according to those, all details seem to match. But all expert botanist advice welcome.

Oh, and I'm also clueless about the insects that often crawl around on it, as in the photo above, but the plant is more important as my son is obsessed with it and I was worried that it might be poisonous (I found half a dozen similar looking plants that are poisonous, in fact).

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

sustainable chemistry

My short essay review of the book

Chemistry for sustainable technologies: A foundation
by Neil Winterton

is out in this week's Chemistry & Industry, i.e. issue 13, page 28.

Here's a snippet:

Winterton developed an optional module course covering the chemical foundations of sustainable development, out of which this book evolved. The somewhat unconnected chapters still feel a bit like coming into a lecture theatre and hearing: “This week we’re going to…” And the over-used parentheses sound like professorial asides.

Each lecture / chapter covers a significant aspect of sustainable development, up to and including the importance of science for society. Each comes with full scientific detail and an extensive bibliography. This book clearly means business. It wants to be worked with and doesn’t take kindly to being read for pleasure.

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

we're all Africa

It doesn't happen that often that I get the chance to use a quote from Shakira in my writing, so I jumped at the opportunity to open my article about African genomics with a reference to last year's Fifa World Cup and its official tune, which includes the spoken words at the end: "We're all Africa."

Because, you see, considering the facts that we all came from Africa at one point, sooner or later, that most of human genetic diversity is found between African populations, not between "races", and that a large part of the global disease load weighs down on Africa, it really is quite weird that the new investigation of personal genomes so blatantly followed the money rather than the scientific interest in sequencing lots of males of European descent before even beginning to include some token people of different origin (or even gender).

Obviously, I have phrased this sentiment much more diplomatically in my feature and I also report on several initiatives which aim to empower Africans to take part in the genome revolution and also to reap the medical and economic benefits from it.

My feature is out today in Current Biology:

African genomes
Current Biology, Volume 21, Issue 13, R481-R484, 12 July 2011

Summary and limited access to PDF file

Shakira performing "Waka waka: This time for Africa" at the closing ceremony of the 2010 World Cup.

Friday, July 08, 2011

not the end of the world

I'm loving the front pages of the UK newspapers today, after the coyote had to bite off its paw to get out of the trap ... Loving them so much I made a little collage:

(I tried a couple of news agents to see whether I could get a proper photo of the papers nicely arranged, but they all had them in very unphotogenic places and arrangements.)

I have to disagree with the headline writers who seemed relish the idea that the NOTW is "the world." I think the world at large will be a lot better off without that paper, thank you very much, and rather than the end, it is hopefully going to be the beginning of a new, better world. I think this is a historic opportunity for the UK to rebuild a democracy where elections are decided by the electorate, not by Rupert M.

PS I'm also blogging and reblogging on tumblr these days - more pics, less text than here, check it out.